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Those Who Misinterpret Scripture
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The Crossroads at 23rd Street

 

"For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." (Romans 1:22)

 

Errors can be corrected and trends reversed if only our faith and determination does not fail us in our earnest quest for the truth.

The Book of Pastoral Care: Part III, Chapter 24:

Those who misinterpret the words of sacred Scripture, and those who understand them but do not speak about them with humility

By Pope St Gregory the Great

 


Those who misinterpret the words of sacred Scripture, and those who understand them but do not speak about them with humility should be advised differently. For those who misinterpret the words of sacred Scripture should be advised that they turn what is a wholesome drink of wine into a cup of poison and they inflict a mortal wound with the scalpel, so to speak, when they fail to cut away the ulcer and instead destroy what is healthy.

They should consider that sacred Scripture is lit as a type of lantern for us in the night of the present life, but when its words are not understood properly, it produces not light but darkness; although a flawed understanding does not lead directly to a perversion of mind, unless it is first inflated by pride.

For when some think that they are wiser than others, they despise to follow another to a better understanding. What is worse, in their desire to create for themselves an image of expertise among the uninformed masses, they work diligently to destroy the correct interpretation of others and to replace it with their own perversions.

Hence, it is well said through the prophet: “They have cut apart the pregnant women of Galaad, so they might extend their border.” (Amos 1:13) For “Galaad” is interpreted as meaning a “heap of testimony.” (Genesis 31:48).

And because the entire community of the Church serves, by its confession, as a testimony to the truth, it is proper for the Church to be expressed as “Galaad.” For it testifies to all truth concerning God by the mouth of all the faithful.

Moreover, souls are expressed as “pregnant women” when they conceive an understanding of the Word from divine love, so that when they come to the end of their term, they can produce the understanding planted in them by a show of their works. And truly, “to extend their border” is to spread abroad the reputation of their name.

Therefore, they have “cut apart the pregnant women of Galaad, so that they might extend their border” because heretics certainly destroy, by their perverse teachings, the minds of the faithful, who have already developed an understanding of the truth. And they do so to promote an image of expertise.

Moreover, the hearts of novices who are growing in their understanding of the Word cut themselves with the sword of error as they make for themselves a reputation as teachers. Therefore, when we instruct these people not to follow perverse teachings, it is necessary that we first advise them against seeking vainglory. For if the root of pride is cut out, then the branches of false teaching will wither.

They should also be advised that by creating errors and discords, the very law that God gave to prevent sacrifices to Satan can be used as a sacrifice to Satan. Thus, the Lord complains through the prophet, saying: “I gave them corn, wine and oil and I multiplied for them silver and gold, which they used in the service of Baal.” (Hosea. 2:8)

For we “receive corn from the Lord” when the husk of the letter of the more obscure teachings is withdrawn and we perceive the kernels of the spiritual law. The Lord “offers His wine to us” when He fills us with the most sublime preaching of his Scripture. He also “provides us with oil” when He orders our lives with gentle smoothness by His more obvious teachings. He “multiples silver” when He supplies us with eloquent words filled with the light of truth. And He “gives us gold” when He soothes our heart with an understanding of supreme splendor.

But Heretics offer all of these things to Baal, because they pervert them in the hearts of their listeners by corrupting their meaning. As such, the corn, wine, and oil of God, as well as the silver and gold, are offered as a sacrifice to Satan, because they transform the words of peace into error and discord. Therefore, they should be advised to consider that when their perverse minds make discord of the precepts of peace, they die on account of the words of life, according to the judgement of God.

On the other hand, those who rightly understand the words of the law but do not speak of them with humility should be advised that before they speak to others of divine discourses, they should first examine themselves. Otherwise, by caring only about the instruction of others, they abandon themselves; and though they rightly understand all the other teachings of sacred Scripture, they do not attend to that one all-important teaching, namely that the Scriptures teach against pride.

For indeed, he is a poor and unskilled physician who attempts to heal others but is not able to diagnose his own wounds. Therefore, those who do not speak the words of God with humility must be advised that when they apply medicine to the sick, they must first inspect the poison of their own infection, or else by attempting to heal others, they kill themselves.

They ought to be advised that they take care so that their manner of speaking is consistent with the excellence of what is being said, and what they say with words is also preached by their actions. And let them hear what is written: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the words of God.” (1 Peter 4:11)

But if the words they speak are not consistent with their behavior, why do they take pride in them as if they were their own? Let them hear what is written: “As from God, before God, In Christ, we speak.” (2 Corinthians 2:17)

For he speaks “from God, Before God” who understands that he has received the word of preaching from God and also seeks to please God, not humans, with this gift. Let them hear what is written: “All who are arrogant are an abomination to the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:5)

For surely, whoever seeks his own glory while speaking the word of God invades the rights of the Giver, and does not fear to promote himself over the One from whom he has received that thing that is praised.

Let them hear what is said to the preacher through Solomon: “Drink water from your cistern and the streams of your well. Let your fountains be dispersed abroad and your water divided in the streets. But keep them to yourself and do not share them with strangers.” (Proverbs 5:15-17)

For the preacher “drinks water from his cistern” when, investigating his own heart, he is the first [to consider the meaning] of what he says. He “drinks of the streams of his well” if he is nourished by the watering of his own words.

And in the same place, it is well added: “Let your fountain be dispersed abroad and you water divided in the streets.” For certainly it is proper that he is the first to drink and then to flow, by preaching, unto others.

For “to disperse fountains abroad” is to pour outwardly the power of preaching upon others. And “to divide water in the streets” is to disperse divine sayings among a great multitude of listeners according to the individual needs of everyone.

And because the pursuit of vainglory typically arises when the Word of God spreads hastily among the opinions of the crowd, after it said “divide your water in the streets,” it was well added: “But keep them to yourself and do not share them with strangers.” For he calls evil spirits “strangers” in a way reminiscent of what is said by the prophet in the words of the one who is tempted: “Strangers have arisen against me and mighty ones have sought my soul.” (Psalms 53:5)

This is why he says: “Divide your water in the street but keep them to yourself.” It is as if he were saying: “It is necessary for you to serve the external role of preaching but do so in a way that you do not contaminate yourself with unclean spirits by developing pride. Otherwise, in the ministry of the divine Word, the enemy will become your partner.”

Therefore, we “divide our water in the streets but possess them alone” when we pour forth the external service of preaching to everyone but have no desire at all to hear praise from others.

 

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